Whether it’s distance running season, triathlon season, or hours upon hours of exercise for other reasons, as training amps up, so should energy and nutrient intake! In this video and post, I’m highlighting the basics of nutrition for endurance training. If you haven’t read or watched it yet, first check out my post on the basics of macronutrients for fitness!
Many people sign up for races with the goal of weight loss. Or, people continue training just to focus on weight maintenance. In reality that can compromise short and long term health, while adding unnecessary stress. The goal should be to enjoy the process while eating adequately to provide energy, aid in recovery, and protect all body systems.
Adding intensity and duration to your normal workout routine may not influence nutrient needs significantly when training begins, but as weeks go by the impact can be serious. I had the opportunity to discuss nutrition for endurance training recently in more detail with runners training for their first NYC marathon, and you can view the panel discussion I was a part of!
Why Low Calorie Intake is Bad for Athletes
Eating just a little less than your body needs each day adds up to limit recovery, increase injury risk, suppress immune function, and reduce the ability to perform your best come race day. If energy gaps are more significant, hormonal function can be disrupted in women, leading to amenorrhea and bone loss. These are two key symptoms of the female athlete triad. In either gender, Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) is now being more widely identified, showing how low energy intake impacts all areas of health negatively. For others, low energy intake may lead to binges in the evening or even the day after longer, harder training sessions.
Recognizing Hunger as an Athlete
To provide adequate nutrition for endurance training, it’s important to listen to the body’s hunger cues. It’s even more important to eat when it seems logical: before you burn the energy. This is referred to as “practical hunger” – eating when you may not necessarily be hungry but instead because you understand that it’s what’s best for your body.
For example, start your day with a tall glass of water and a carbohydrate rich breakfast that includes protein and fat. This will set you up to be fueled and hydrated before your workout even begins. If running out the door just after waking to exercise, at least have some fruit or even a tablespoon of honey – if this makes you nervous because you’ve had GI problems while training or competing in the past, it’s likely that you need to train your gut just like the rest of your body!
When it comes to nutrition for endurance training, don’t forget that snacks should also contain all three energy nutrients (carbs, protein, fat), too. You just may have them in slightly smaller amount compared to your main meals. If you feel low energy despite snacking between meals, consider amping up your intake with mini-meals.
Pre-workout and post-workout snacks are crucial to support energy and recovery, but you’ll also need carbohydrates during runs lasting longer than an hour. When this is the case, you can choose salted dried fruit, sports drinks, sports gels, blocks, or honey.
Nutrition for Endurance Training Recovery
While you may not want them pre-workout due to high fiber content, don’t skimp on fruits and veggies throughout the rest of the day. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in produce work together to enhance recovery. The more different colors you consume, the better. So, aim to eat the rainbow!
While all nutrients are important, two that I like to emphasize to protect your body are vitamin C and omega-3.
Vitamin C is an important immune nutrient and helps protect against oxidative stress. Studies show that increased intake of Vitamin C may help prevent upper respiratory tract infections post-marathon or ultramarathon. You can increase your intake of C by consuming more citrus fruits, peppers, kiwi and greens as well as broccoli and even potatoes!
Omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation thereby supporting recovery. Aiding in proper inflammatory responses may help to improve muscle recovery while also protecting joints. To obtain more omega-3s, include fats from fish like salmon, tuna or sardines. If following a vegan diet, choose algae supplements to obtain adequate EPA and DHA omega-3. If you are an athlete with asthma, fish oil or algae oil supplements may be beneficial. Speak with a doctor or dietitian to choose one that’s best for you.
Need tips on what to eat marathon day or race day for your triathlon?
Check out this detailed piece I had the opportunity to write for Clif bar:
What to Eat Before a Marathon.
Best Recipes for Endurance Training
Look no further! Click the links below for some of my recipes to properly fuel your endurance training. Plus, you can head over to my Pinterest, where I’ve bookmarked some of my favorite recipes from other bloggers, too!
- Wild Blueberry Slow Cooker Oats add nuts, seeds, or nut butter
- Pumpkin Buckwheat Pancakes top with nut butter and real maple
- Veggie Egg Muffins pair with toast and fruit
Pre and Post Workout Snacks
- Strawberry Chocolate Oat Bars (pre)
- Banana Peanut Butter Snack Bites (pre)
- Pumpkin Cranberry Energy Bites (pre)
- Snickerdoodle Protein Bars (post)
Post Workout Recovery Meals
- Sheet Pan Egg Nourish Bowl
- High Protein Vegan Stir Fry
- High Protein Pesto Pasta
- Buffalo Tempeh Sandwich